Film Style: Flying Down to Rio (1933)

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Let’s get this out of the way straight away. Flying Down to Rio is a very silly film. However, like many other silly things (whoopee cushions, jaffa cake flavoured milkshakes, nail art, shoes with cat faces), that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. In fact, it is lots of fun indeed.

Flying Down to Rio was released in 1933 and loosely follows a dashing band leader and his pursuit of a Brazilian Bombshell. The two leads are Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond, but nowadays the film is better known as being the first to pair up Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In fact at this time Ginger was much better known than Fred, and it is the only time that her name ever appeared before his in the billing. They dance together several times, but are particularly inspiring doing The Carioca, which was released as a popular song at the time.

The plot is flimsy and not really important at all, but the music and dancing are sparkling and the movie is well worth watching for these alone. The costumes are also a delight, with Dolores del Rio in floaty chiffon and orchids, Ginger in two-tone suits, and the men in typical tuxes. Being pre-Code, some of the costumes are also rather racy and wouldn’t have been permitted in a 1950s musical.

The most noteworthy part of the film is the ground-breaking number at the end, with troupes of dancers displaying typical Busby Berkely style moves whilst strapped to the top of bi-planes. The film itself is largely forgotten, but that wonderfully creative vision of dancers on top of aeroplanes is a standout moment of the optimism and creativity of 1930s Hollywood musicals. In fact, the scene was referenced much later in The Boyfriend (1971) starring Twiggy.

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